By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Rusty Brown is spending today in Las Vegas to rest up after a grueling week at Nevada's Lake Mead. It's the only chance he'll get, as he heads back to work in Southern California this weekend.
The 34-year-old full-time guide will fulfill a sponsor commitment on Saturday and will be on the water with clients on Sunday. He'll show up with a new prefix in front of his name that puts him in a group with Rick Clunn, Aaron Martens, Mike Folkestad and some other luminaries of the sport: WON Bass U.S. Open champion.
"I scheduled a lot of things for right after the U.S. Open," he said. "Win, lose or draw, I knew it was going to be time to get back to reality, so to speak."
He was the only competitor in the 142-angler field who caught a double-digit bag on each of the 3 days from the often-stingy desert impoundment. His 31.25-pound total thwarted a valiant final-day effort by Bassmaster Elite Series pro Cliff Pirch, whose 15 1/2-pound stringer left him about a pound short of his third title in the event.
Here are some of the specifics on how Brown captured his first U.S. Open victory in his 12th attempt.
Brown's primary objective for practice was to find some quality fish that were a considerable distance away from the launch in Callville Bay. He figured if he could catch an average of 10 pounds a day, he'd be in contention to win.
"I knew Callville was going to get beat up and I knew there would be a lot of guys in the (Las Vegas) Wash and the Overton arm," he said. "I wanted to make long runs and I wanted to commit to an area that had some baitfish and some grass and isolated sticks instead of the really thick stuff."
He found what he was looking for in the remote Gregg Basin at the far eastern edge of the massive lake.
"It had all of that stuff, plus some secondary points and cuts, and a little wind never hurts a reaction-bait bite. I wanted to fish shallow, but I didn't want to totally commit to the 6 inches to 4-foot range. I wanted to give some of the deeper grasslines in the 8- to 12-foot range a chance."
He discovered that he could catch fish on a variety of reaction baits – topwaters, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and crankbaits. He would rely on all four types over the course of the tournament.
> Day 1: 5, 10.27
> Day 2: 5, 10.17
> Day 3: 5, 10.81
> Total = 15, 31.25
Anyone with much experience at Mead knows that those desert fish love sunlight. In contrast to most venues across the country, gray skies tend to shut them down.
Clouds were present throughout the event and the field endured several periods of at least moderate precipitation. That might've played a role in keeping the weights slightly down this year.
Most of Brown's focus was on the Gregg Basin fish, but he hadn't yet ruled out spending some time in the Overton arm.
"I'd planned to fish Overton one day, depending on how the first day went," he said. "If I caught 10 pounds in Gregg's, I'd go back."
His 10 1/4-pound haul on day 1 put him in 9th place, just a little less than 3 pounds off the pace set by Todd Herman. His day-2 sack was a tenth of a pound lighter, but it advanced him all the way to 2nd – just more than a half-pound shy of new leader Brett Hite.
He caught his best sack of the event on the final day, and he needed almost all of it to keep Pirch at bay.
"I knew if we got wind in Gregg's those fish would turn on real good, and the 10- to 15-mph breeze was a key to the final day's weight. Gregg's was the only place it blew, too – I left at 12 o'clock and made a couple of stops in Temple Bar, and it was just as flat as it could be.
"I had some company in Gregg's – on day 3 I saw six or seven of the dozen boats that had been in there the previous day. Nobody was right on top of me, though. Everybody was like, 'Hey dude, good luck.' Everybody was real cool."
> Spinnerbait gear: 7' medium-heavy Phenix Ultra MBX Classic rod, Daiwa Steez casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Maxima Ultragreen monofilament line, 3/8- or 1/2-ounce Phenix Pro-Line spinnerbait (shad color with small nickel willow-leaf blades), 4" Keitech swimbait trailer (crystal shad).
> He fished the spinnerbait with and without the trailer. He cut about a half-inch off the head of the swimbait to achieve a better fit, which reduced its length to about 3 1/2 inches.
> Topwater gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Phenix M1 rod, Daiwa Lexa 100 casting reel (7:1 ratio), 12-pound Maxima Ultragreen, Rapala Skitter Walk (bone).
> Jerkbait gear: Same rod, reel and line as spinnerbait, Rapala Vixen (chartreuse shad).
> Cranking gear: Same rod, reel and line as spinnerbait and jerkbait, Storm Arashi Silent Square 3 (hot blue shad).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Fishing the U.S. Open, I always have the mindset to catch 10 pounds a day. I said to myself I'd rather give up catching 40 fish, like some guys did, to try for five good ones. If I could catch seven, eight or nine fish a day, I was pretty sure I could get those good ones. I decided to throw bigger baits and make a lot of casts and find a way to get those bigger fish to bite."
> Performance edge – "Everything has to work properly at the U.S. Open, so I'd say everything from my Ranger/Mercury down to my rods, reels, line, baits – the whole bit. If something malfunctions, you'll lose key fish. I never lost a fish in practice or in the tournament."
> For complete final results, click here.
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